Harliss MacIntyre had a bad reputation. She’d been known to steal boyfriends, flirt with other girls’ dates, and in later years, it was rumored that she’d met a husband or two at that little motel way up 61, being sure to get a room in the back section where their cars wouldn't be seen from the road. The old ladies gave her those up-and-down lorgnette looks, even at church, for the very air around her seemed tainted, somehow, as if she’d rubbed Sin on her skin instead of Jergens.
Harliss hit her forties with hairstyle wider than her skinny hips; she toddled through life in three-inch heels below her tiny Chic jeans, leaving Shalimar and whispers in her wake. And one of the wonders of a small town is that she just went where she pleased, and hardly anyone really ostracized her ---life went on for Harliss despite her inglorious reputation. She played bridge, she attended Sunday School and Training Union, she was On The Board of Homeroom Mothers at the Private School. A few eschewed her company, and those were mostly either wives wronged by her or another like her, or their Mamas, whose grudges would outlast Time itself.
She’d grown up with the same crowd all of her years---most of her high school classes consisted of people she’d started Kindergarten with, and if she’d been in the backseat with almost every senior boy---well, that’s just how she WAS. There was no need to make a big public THING of it, unless you considered the boy YOURS. And, it emerged, there must have been more of those than met the eye for a long time.
When she herself married, she made eleven trips to Memphis and Jackson and two to New Orleans, to find just the perfect wedding dress. It was taste and not tact which caused her to choose an ivory gown rather than white---it fit her like a glove---indeed like a SURGEON’S glove, clinging to her small frame and accenting her already-enhanced bosoms like a Barbie dress. Harliss had had work.
Perhaps that’s where the idea started. Perhaps there was never an idea at all. But when some of her longtime friends invited her to a “Nostalgia Tea” and a lot of the décor was from their childhoods, a joke---human or cosmic---came into being and resounded for counties around.
Nobody ever claimed the incident, though it was whispered far and wide; nobody admitted to choosing the party favors or setting the tables. Nobody took credit for the concept or the crime; it just WAS, and as appropriate a gesture of contempt as it was occasion of immediate titters and then parking-lot and ladies’ room guffaws, with eye-wipings and nose-blowings and other unseemly doings which accompany a good hearty hang-onto-each-other laugh.
Why, when it happened, Alida Jameson and Charlotte Ann Armstrong both ran off down the hall and squeezed into one stall in the ladies' room, whooping and hollering, and holding on to each other. And Alida's Mama's Lilly Dache' hat from her honeymoon fell right into the toilet---it being lidless and all. The hundred silk flowers of that hat (just like one worn by Miss Jennifer Jones in a movie, and bought at Goldsmith's in 1966) emerged dripping and draggled, and it took DAYS for it to dry right so Alida could give it back.
This was a “wear gloves and hats” occasion, with a group of perhaps thirty ladies gathering for a lovely tea at the country club. Pastels were the order of the day, with flowers on each table-for-eight, and a silk-rose-twined lattice behind the speakers’ podium, as well as a pink ostrich plume on the registry pen.
Pastel boas draped each chair, every placecard was done in the most beautiful calligraphy, pink tablecloths abounded, and every rose-covered teapot that could be borrowed was in evidence.
But the pieces de resistance were the beautifully-dressed Barbie dolls, fondly remembered by one and all. They sat saucily on each plate, atop the folded napkin, and, as is the nature of the Mattel line, they sat flatly, with their feet outstretched in front of them for balance. They wore costumes from all decades---capris and ball gowns and swimsuits and cocktail dresses, and much OHHH and AHHH was heard throughout the room.
At Harliss’ table, the one nearest the entrance, with her place and her place-card prominent to view as each guest entered to find her own chair---at that particular place setting, Barbie wore a cute, flippy mini-dress---quite stylish and attractive.
EXCEPT, somehow of them all, Harliss’ Barbie had lost her balance, and had toppled backward---so that when the ladies arrived, there sprawled Harliss’ Barbie on her back with her legs in the air like a goalpost in pumps. And she was wearing a thong---an item, I am sure, which has not appeared in any fancybox doll wardrobe meant for children. How one would go about making a thong out of a wisp of old stocking and embroidery floss, as I later heard that it was, is beyond me. But somebody had, and that's the only thing which seems to take the occurrence from accident to planned.
But someone, or something greater than them all, had played the perfect joke on Harliss, who laughed as loud as anybody.